Desolation is a common trope in cinema that banks on its viewers fears of being alone, stranded and incapable of self-preservation. In years’ past, films like “Castaway,” “The Martian” and “Gravity” have taken this experience of hopelessness to new heights. In director Morten Tyldum’s (“Imitation Game” and “Head Hunters”) latest film, he takes this concept one step further but with a confrontational dash of romance in the mix.
Passengers’ futuristic setting takes place aboard the Avalon – a commercial voyager ship holding some 5,000 passengers in hibernation, as they embark on a 120-year long flight to a new planet.
Passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanical engineer, awakens from his sleep chamber nearly 90 years before the ship is expected to arrive. Preston finds himself alone, on a massive ship with no contact to the real world, other humans or the ability to go back into hibernation.
During the first act of the film, we follow Preston’s first year onboard the Avalon. The starship is stacked with amenities — he plays basketball, watches movies and even manages to hack his way into a luxury suite — things could be worse … right? Preston’s only form of social contact comes in the form of a bartending android, Arthur (Martin Sheen) who’s a keen companion and conversation piece, but a terrible support system for the moral options of humanity that swing in front of Preston. As time alone turns into desperation and suicidal thoughts begin to kick in — these things simply aren’t enough to continue living for.
Just as all seems lost, we’re introduced to our second lead — a famous writer from the Big Apple named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Preston’s not only relieved to have companionship once again, he is obsessed to some extent. As time passes, the two embrace one another and become lovers. The film weighs heavily on a “last two people on earth” situation to fuel its romance; we never truly see these characters develop or learn many of the finer details of their lives before either made the sacrifice to leave their lives behind for the great beyond.
While the romantic elements of this film could benefit from a stronger backstory, it remains Sci-Fi at its core. It struggles to identify as either a romance or an action film. While Act One focuses on Sci-Fi elements, Act Two is focused on the romance aspect. The final acts focus on a worst-case scenario situation, in which our leads must work to prevent the ship from a catastrophic failure, dooming the lives of its other 5,000 passengers.
“Passengers” courageously attempts to distance itself from films past with a formulaic mix. Without the blending of genres, the film would simply be a duplicate with little to desire. Its likeable cast and conceptual revelations are something worth acknowledging. This Valentine’s Day, it could be the perfect date movie — a love story for her and an action adventure for him.